What To Do If You Can't Afford A Lawyer

It is stressful if you are on a budget and wondering how you will meet the costs of a lawyer. Retaining a family lawyer from start to finish may mean an overwhelming invoice at the end. Similarly, not hiring a lawyer could be a mistake. Which ever path you choose, it is entirely your decision. Each divorce is different. Sometimes an individual’s situation changes throughout the divorce process and tricky questions or situations arise. Having direction from professional legal counsel is incredibly valuable. Knowing how to navigate financial settlements, parenting and custody arrangements, spousal maintenance as well as knowing the realistic parameters of what you are entitled to may make the difference between spending years in the family court or settling faster out of court by consent.

So, what happens and what can you do if you can’t afford a Family Lawyer working on your case ‘on tap’ or ‘at will’ and as necessary:

  1. Legal aid – there are processes and requirements that you must meet to qualify for legal aid (finance, assets, prospect of success in the case, financial contribution towards legal aid). You will need to attend a free group session set by legal aid, prior to any further assistance or consideration. At this meeting, turn up with your long list of questions and make the most of having a lawyer available.
  2. Limited representation, set-scope representation or per hour consultations – you may be able to engage legal representation or a lawyer for a selected or nominated area of your divorce situation, specific task, issue or preceding. You may wish to engage a lawyer for a single appearance at court or to draft orders, review a letter/proposal/agreement and draft a response or recommend amendments. Limiting the time and scope in which your lawyer works on your case helps you to budget and afford your legal assistance.
  3. Free consultations – sometimes law firms or lawyers offer a free first consultation or find a ‘question and answer time’ after a family law topical speech. It is suggested to have a list of your questions ready (and take the Separation Statement with you) and make the most of every second. You can learn a lot from an hour with a legal professional.
  4. Delayed payment - ‘buy now, pay later’ – This arrangement is where the legal fees are taken out of the financial settlement. Be warned; you need to have a sufficient financial settlement that funds the work of your lawyer. You may wish to discuss a delayed payment and limited representation arrangement to save money.

One added benefit to implementing limited scope (#2) and free consultations (#3) is that you can save extra time and money by using the same lawyer for each of your short-term works. This will cut the need to brief and re-brief you lawyer about the specifics of your situation.

Of course, you can always self-represent. However, there are challenges associated with this too. Some Judges are great at supporting self-represented individuals and others are not. With the increasing pressures on the family court system, the Judge’s patience can wear thin. What you consider to be crucial and relevant may not be. You may be over sharing information that could be more harmful for your case. Further, you may not be filling out the necessary documentation correctly.

To this end, it is always worthy of having legal representation and the individualised advice of a family lawyer. Be open and honest with your lawyer about your budgetary constraints and ask how you can work alongside them to save money. Familiarise yourself with the Divorce Answered specialised tools and resources which can help you prepare documents for your lawyer and then forward to your lawyer for advice and opinion.


This is general advice only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer and/or accountant before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. DivorceAnswered.com.au cannot provide legal advice. If you have an emergency situation, please contact Emergency '000'. © Divorce Pty Ltd